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Anim Behav. 1999 Apr;57(4):893-901.

The effect of predation on begging-call evolution in nestling wood warblers.

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Section of Ecology and Systematics, Cornell University


I combined a comparative study of begging in ground- and tree-nesting wood warblers (Parulidae) with experimental measures of the predation costs of warbler begging calls. Throughout their development, ground-nesting warbler nestlings had significantly higher-frequency begging calls than did tree-nesting warblers. There was also a trend for ground-nesting birds to have less rapidly modulated calls. There were no consistent associations between nesting site and the amplitude of the calls. Using miniature walkie-talkies hidden inside artificial nests, I reciprocally transplanted the begging calls of 5- and 8-day-old black-throated blue warblers, Dendroica caerulescens (tree-nesting) and ovenbirds, Seiurus aurocapillus (ground-nesting) and measured the corresponding changes in rates of nest predation. For the begging calls of 8-day-old nestlings, but not those of 5-day-olds, the calls of the tree-nesting species coming from ground nests incurred greater costs than did the calls of ground nesters. The reciprocal transplant had little effect on the rate of predation. Tooth imprints on clay eggs placed in artificial nests indicated that eastern chipmunks, Tamias striatus, were responsible for the increased cost of begging for black-throated blue calls coming from the ground. These data suggest that nest predation may be responsible for maintaining some of the interspecific differences in the acoustic structure of begging calls.

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